Oregon voters have approved a historic ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs and invest in substance misuse treatment, according to a projection from the Associated Press.
The decriminalization measure will remove criminal penalties for low-level drug possession offenses—something that no other U.S. state has yet done. Instead, those caught possessing a controlled substance will be subject to a $100 fine or be required to complete a health assessment within 45 days.
The new law will also use existing tax revenue from marijuana sales, which voters legalized in 2014, to fund expanded drug treatment programs.
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“Today’s victory is a landmark declaration that the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use,” Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “Measure 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date.”
“It shifts the focus where it belongs—on people and public health—and removes one of the most common justifications for law enforcement to harass, arrest, prosecute, incarcerate and deport people,” she said. “As we saw with the domino effect of marijuana legalization, we expect this victory to inspire other states to enact their own drug decriminalization policies that prioritize health over punishment.”
The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission determined in an August report that the reform will reduce felony and misdemeanor convictions for drug possession by 91 percent, and that reduction will be “substantial for all racial groups, ranging from 82.9 percent for Asian Oregonians to approximately 94 percent for Native American and Black Oregonians.”
In September, the Oregon Democratic Party formally endorsed the measure, as well as a separate proposal to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes that voters in the state also saw on their ballots on Tuesday. That measure also passed on Tuesday.
Weeks before the election, the decriminalization campaign rolled out out a series of TV and online ads promoting the measure.
Thematically, the short spots were consistent in their message: low-level drug offenses should be treated as a public health issue, and subjecting people to the criminal justice system for substance use is counterproductive and carries life-long consequences.
The reach of the advertisements was likely broadened thanks to a recent $500,000 campaign contribution from a foundation run by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.
The recent spots aren’t the first ads that Oregonians may have seen from the campaign. It launched its first video urging a “yes” vote on the decriminalization initiative back in August.
Activists also got a signal boost from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). In a Facebook post, the campaign shared a quote from the congressman, who endorsed the initiative as well as the separate psilocybin measure.
“One of the most urgent issues we face is the unconscionable shortage of drug treatment for people who want help as they struggle with drug addiction,” he said. “Instead of providing treatment, we treat them as criminals, making things incalculably worse for them, their families and the rest of the community while wasting huge sums of money.”
“That is why I am such a strong supporter of Ballot Measure 110,” he said. “Measure 110 will help shift Oregon to a health-based approach to a health-based drug addiction crisis. This is more compassionate, more effective, safer, and simple common sense. Please join me in voting Yes on Measure 110.”
Musician John Legend also endorsed the decriminalization measure.
Under the proposal, the decriminalization provisions must be implemented by February 1, 2021. Substance misuse treatment centers funded through the initiative must be “established and operational” by October 1, 2021.
Marijuana Moment is following multiple drug policy reform votes this Election Day. Check here for the latest.